May 2011

May, 2011

---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Hi, ASESMA people: This month, I am devoting our newsletter to an interview with one of the ASESMA participants, Phillip Nyawere. During the school last year, I found the participants came from variety of interesting backgrounds, and I think that many of you will be interested to learn more about their stories. Below is an excerpt from my interview with Phillip. For the complete text, go to our website. [link] In another incidence of email hacking, many of you received an email recently from Thabo Letsoalo. It seems his yahoo email account was hacked, and all his contacts have received requests for money. Please ignore them. Best regards, Alison ---------------------------------------------------------------------- :: INTERVIEW WITH PHILLIP NYAWERE :: ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ASESMA member Phillip Nyawere grew up in the Western part of Kenya. During his PhD research, he has worked extensively with Sandro Scandolo at the ICTP in Trieste, through STEP, the Sandwich Training Educational Program. He is currently finishing his PhD at Moi University, Kenya, and working as an assistant lecturer of physics at Kabarak University. He holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in physics, and over the years, he has also taught math and physics in high school and worked as a lab technician. We spoke on the phone. An excerpt of our conversation is below, and you can read the full text here: [link] ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- [Please could you talk about your education: how you became interested in physics and the challenges you have faced living in Kenya?] I realized I wanted to do sciences when I was in primary school because I got a lot of interest in electricity, connecting some wires and seeing the bulbs light; it used to excite me so much in the lower primary school. So when i went to high school I met a teacher in physics, Mr. Kairo (who's now in the US with a Green Card). He helped me personally and in that way I passed physics and was able to do it in the university. ... Every year he was making sure that he trained some students to go and do physics, specifically for the degree. He would pick one student, talk to the student, and encourage the student. Because here the university education is very competitive. It is not automatic to go to the university. In my time, we were around 300,000 students who sat the exam but they were only taking 10,000 for the degree. In the primary school, we were going to school without shoes, without cardigans.... So it was very difficult, because you are going to school, you feel cold, you walk on very rough ground. And also the teachers were very harsh on us, so many students dropped out of school. In high school, we did not have facilities in the laboratory ... so we started doing our practicals when we were in our last year examination class. Laboratories are not well equipped in our country and it's really a big challenge for science. So we don't get proper foundation, at primary and at the high school level, until we get to the university where they have facilities now. [Do you think that scientific research is important for Africa's future and prosperity?] Well, it is important for me as an individual, because I know what research is. The big challenge is that our governments are not interested in research at all. So you find that there is no allocation given to us for our research. ... But research is very important for development, especially in the agricultural sector. You find that there is more research in agriculture than in the physical sciences. I think that here in Africa [the research] gets more focused on the immediate problems, like for example, they can put more money in the study of HIV and AIDS, and maybe things like food security. But when it comes to things that for them are not tangible, like what we are doing in the sciences, you find that it is put aside, it is not really their concern. [At the ASESMA workshop, I heard many people complaining about the "brain-drain" of Africa, where the best African scientists are recruited by foreign universities. Can you comment on that?] Yes, this is an issue, and I think mostly it affects specific professions, like the medical doctors and the nurses. One of the major reasons is the kind of payment they are getting here, it's like we are not appreciating the role they are playing in our society. But I know there are also those scientists who are established at home. For me individually, given good conditions, good working environment, good research environment, I think it would be better to stay improve this society. In fact, it's also a way of appreciating the role the government has played in your life. Because, like, in the university, if you came from very poor background, the government was paying everything. We were given a loan and now we are now repaying it back, but it helped us in our education. [So would you be tempted by a job offer overseas?] Yes, of course. I have a friend who I was in university with who is teaching currently in Canada and he was trying to convince me to do the immigration to Canada, but I do believe I am giving better to the society here than what I would have done in Canada. So for me, I do believe that I should serve here. [What was the most useful thing you took away from the ASESMA school?] In fact from ASESMA, I've really moved several steps in my research. I was really lucky to meet you people, you young scientists, i really got challenged interacting with you people. And one of the greatest things that I would say, was interactions specifically with Kris Delaney. .... He has really helped me, like with elastic constants, and in fact I have written a paper on this and have just forwarded it to him for corrections. I intend to publish the paper soon. So I think that is the biggest gain that I got in ASESMA, as far as I know. And also, with the internet working, at least i can still talk to you over the phone. Right now, if I am stranded, I know which people I can contact in which area. I write an email and I am replied. My work has become easier. And also I can't forget CHPC. I'm still using CHPC machines most of the time. [What advice would you give to a young scientist in Africa today who wants to follow your career path?] What I would tell them, those who are at home, I would encourage then that it is possible, even from here. Right now, with the global village on the internet, somebody would be able to do research from Africa. And those who are outside, maybe, in other nations, I would encourage them to come back home and help build a society for tomorrow. [Do you have any message specifically for the ASESMA members?] I would tell ASESMA people that we should never loose the network and that they should be able to press on. I know in Africa they are really needed to do teaching, but I would encourage them not to loose focus on the research. And above all, inform the society on what we are doing in condensed matter physics, so that maybe our government can be informed on exactly what we are doing in our computer simulations. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks, Phillip, for talking with me and sharing your advice with the ASESMA members.